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Valentine Penrose (née Boué; 1 January 1898 – 7 August 1978), was a French surrealist poet, author, and collagist.

Valentine Penrose
BornValentine Boué
(1898-01-01)1 January 1898
Mont-de-Marsan, Landes, France
Died7 August 1978(1978-08-07) (aged 80)
Chiddingly, East Sussex, England
OccupationPoet, author, collagist
Roland Penrose
(m. 1925; div. 1937)

Enquête "What sort of Hope Do You Place in Love?" December, 1929. Question: "Do you recognize the right to deprive yourself for a certain time of the loved being's presence, knowing... love may by exhaled by absence but perceiving also the mediocrity of such a calculation?"

Valentine Penrose: "...It is surely mediocre to create surprises with a personal truth."[1]



Valentine Boué was born in Gascon 1898 to a military family in Mont-de-Marsan, Landes, France. Her father was a Colonal hero of Verdun and considered as an inventor and creator. She was educated at Légion d'honneur, an establishment by Napolian Bonaparte and the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits.The family moved to Paris when she was very young.[2]

In 1925, she married the English artist, historian and poet Roland Penrose, (1900-1984) who was beginning to enter the surrealist community. They journeyed to Egypt and met the Spaniard Count Galarza de Santa Clara, a master of arcane studies and theories on the resolution of opposites.The theme had a profound effect on Penrose and is incorporated in much of her work. Penrose was never an entirely committed tract-signing participant of the Paris group. She joined the community of surrealists based in Paris in the late 1920's and early 1930's. Her writings were influenced by time periods of the 12th Century Chateau de Pouy in India, where Count Galarza had settled, as well as the traditions of Goa, in Spain before, during and since the Civil War.

Valentine was involved in the publication of Andre Breton's inaugural issue of La révolution surréaliste;[3] she was one of eight other women who were involved with the journal. Valentine's first publication in the journal was a response to the 1929 inquiry on love in La révolution surréaliste no. 12[3] Valentine and her husband moved to Spain in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. In the same year she joined the workers militia in Spain to defend the revolution.[4] Valentine and Roland had different viewpoints on traditions in India, Eastern thought, and philosophy, which all led to a growing distance between the two.[5] They were divorced in 1937, but met again in London during the war, after which she lived half her time with her ex-husband and his second wife, the American photojournalist Lee Miller. This arrangement continued for the rest of her life.[2][6]

She enlisted as a soldier and joined the French Army in 1944, continuing the family military tradition.[2] Her status was a 3rd class soldier in Free France Army and was posted to Algiers, returning to France at the Liberation.

She died on 7 August 1978 in Chiddingly, East Sussex, England, in the house of her ex-husband.

Valentine was an independent women who pushed against the social expectations set-on her; as a women she was expected to be a muse and object for male surrealist artist.[3]

Literary style and influencesEdit

Valentine Penrose first encountered surrealism in the late 1920s. Penrose was one of the first of four women to become involved in the surrealist movement.[7] Her first surrealist publication was her response to the 1929 inquiry on love in La revolution surrealiste no 12. [8] Valentine Penrose wrote surrealist poetry, although she is perhaps best known for her biography of the serial killer Elizabeth Báthory (1560-1614). Her poetry reflects her experience of automatic writing, collage and painting techniques such as Max Ernst’s frottage and Wolfgang Paalen’s fumage.[2] It is said that her works stem from transgression and the reconstruction of defiance.[9] For a female artist of her time it was unconventional for a women to illustrate such erotic and violent works but Valentine was a rebellious artist who was apologetically herself. The difference between Ernst and Valentine is that Ernst work represents an over dramatic dream sequence with dysfunctional and bizarre relationships whereas Valentine's illustrates the travels of two women and their erotic adventures.[10]

Penrose was interested in female mysticism, Eastern philosophy,[8] Western mysticism,[11] alchemy and the occult. She met Count Galarza de Santa Clara in Egypt, a master of the esoteric,[12] and made several visits to his ashram in India. She studied Sanskrit while in India.[8] In 1936 she made an extended visit to India with the poet and painter Alice Paalen (later Alice Rahon). They become very close and their relationship is shown in their poetry from 1936 to about 1945.[2][13][14] It is believed that the two had a relationship while in India based on the lesbian attributes present in their work at that time.[15] After their trip in India, they didn’t see each other again.

From 1937 she started writing on lesbianism, always with the same lovers: Emily and Rubia. This dominates Martha's Opéra (1945), and Dons des Féminines (1951).[2]

Returning to France from India in 1939, she lived the early war years in England associating with the surrealist group.

Penrose's work was admired by Paul Eluard, who wrote prefaces for her first collection Herbe à la lune (1935) and Dons des féminines (1951).[16] The works in Dons des féminines were greatly inspired by Alice Rohan.[15] She also knew the surrealist poet André Breton.[17]

In the 1940s, Penrose made surrealist collages.[8] Dons des Féminines (1951) combines her collages and poetry.[13] One of her collages is The Real Women, 1938.[11]

She collaborated on a few pieces including London Bulletin, VVV, Dyn, and Free Unions.[8]


French PoetryEdit

  • Penrose, Valentine (1935). Herbe à la lune. Eluard, Paul (preface). Editions GLM.
  • — (1937). Sorts de la lueur. Editions GLM.
  • — (1937). Poèmes. Editions GLM.
  • — (1951). Dons des Féminines. Eluard, Paul (preface); Penrose, Valentine (illustator). Les pas Perdus. (Collages and poems by Valentine Penrose. One edition had additional illustrations by Pablo Picasso).[18][19]
  • — (1972). Les Magies. Les Mains Libres.
  • — (2001). Colville, Georgiana M. M., ed. Ecrits d'une femme surréaliste. Paris: J. Losfeld. ISBN 978-2844120915. (Anthology of works of Valentine Penrose)

French ProseEdit

  • — (1936). La Nouvelle Candide. Editions GLM.
  • — (1945). Martha's Opéra. Fontaine.
  • — (1962). Erzsébet Báthory la Comtesse sanglante. Gallimard / Mercure de France.

Works translated into EnglishEdit

  • — (1977). Poems and Narrations. Edwards, R (translator). Littlehampton Book Services Ltd. ISBN 978-0856352072.
  • — (2006). The Bloody Countess: Atrocities of Erzsébet Báthory. Trocchi, Alexander (translator). Solar Books. ISBN 978-0-9714578-2-9. (Translation of Erzsébet Báthory la Comtesse sanglante)


Penrose acted in the following films:

Collage ArtworkEdit

Penrose’s collage artwork utilizes formal elements of Surrealism while disapproving of the conceptual aspects of Surrealist art, most often in relation to gender roles. She was most outspoken about the brutality and misogyny sometimes depicted by Surrealist and was highly critical of certain figures within the movement, such as Max Ernst, who was also notable for his use of collage as a medium.[5] Her husband, Roland Penrose, was a primarily visual artist who was a notable figure within the Surrealist movement while associating Valentine with other Surrealist artists. Much of Valentine Penrose’s art was created using traditional art and collage images which were sourced from common publications such as journals, catalogues and books. Her known portfolio includes various collages and collage novel, which incorporated her literary background in its composition. Penrose’s multimedia novel is entitled Dons des Féminines and has been called the “archetypal surrealist book” since it uses compositional elements that are expected of Surrealist art. The format is fragmented and uses bilingual poetry in combination with the visual imagery of the collages to create disorientation and continuous translation. The images are arranged to create juxtapositions and lack of continuity and become increasingly complex. There are references to Penrose’s other, more cohesive, literary work but the novel does not have a singular format. The background for the works is typically of natural scenery or a landscape in which foreign elements are added, sometimes symbolically to create paradoxes. The recurring themes throughout the novel are gender ambiguity, love and prophetic writing.[22]

La Comtesse Sanglante (The Bloody Countess)[23]Edit

The bloody biography of Ezsebet Bethory was captured by Valentine Penrose. It delves deep into the Hungarian Countess who tortured and killed the women of the village in hopes of defying the onset of age. Penrose incorporates historical fact, personal interpretation, and creative mythology. The novel functioned political power because it was a feminist response to the male domination of education on history and literary criticism of the time. Karen Humphery, an interpreter of Valentine Penrose's work, argues that the biography holds implicit messages that compete with societal constructs concerning power and women's position. The evil figure of the countess is indirectly compared to male counterparts. Penrose continuously compares the countess to Gilles de Rais and establishes a game of power and actions. The privileges of the power structure and the idea of ownership also is subject to the intellectual property and authorship of literary production of Penrose's era. The philosophical underline serves as blueprint for the spiritual transcendence. The themes of life and death, law and order, power and condemnation are replayed throughout the novel in reflection to the limits and depths that are enveloped in the social constructs. The constant pressing of boundaries developed as a characteristic of Penrose and rose awareness of the comparison of men and women interpretations involving their status of maliciousness and historical record. The "iron curtain" incorporates the uncertain field that trends through cultural difference, levels of law and their function in power. and the institutionally stationed aspects. The fear of the unknown framed by a subtle line is between with the medieval feudal system with communism and the complicated present of chaos. At the time Penrose published the novel, Hungary was under communist regime. The chaos and political topics of her time are constantly played into the comparison, emphasizing her themes of injustice in the past and present.

Alice RahonEdit

Alice Rahon was born in 1904 and grew in Paris.[15] In 1929, Penrose met Alice Rahon, who later married surrealist artist Wolfgang Paalen. . Her involvement in surrealism began in the 1930s with both paintings and poetry. . In 1939, she and her husband move to Mexico where Alice becomes more known for her paintings rather than poetry.[24]


  1. ^ Valentine., Penrose, (1977). Poems and narrations. Edwards, Roy. [Manchester, Eng.]: Carcanet Press. ISBN 0856352071. OCLC 3118631.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Colvile, Georgiana (1997). "Penrose, Valentine Boué". In Makward Christiane P.; Cottenet-Hage, Madeleine. Dictionnaire littéraire des femmes de langue française: De Marie de France à Marie NDiaye (in French). Karthala. pp. 463–465.
  3. ^ a b c "Gisèle Prassinos", Surrealist Painters and Poets, The MIT Press, 2001, ISBN 9780262270076, retrieved 2019-03-09
  4. ^ The Yale Anthology of Twentieth-Century French Poetry. Caws, Mary Ann. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2004. ISBN 9780300133158. OCLC 182530178.
  5. ^ a b Chadwick, Whitney (2017). Farewell to the Muse: Love, War and the Women of Surrealism.
  6. ^ Kellaway, Kate (22 August 2010). "Tony Penrose: 'With Picasso, the rule book was torn up'". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  7. ^ Penelope, Rosemont (1998). Surrealist Women: An International Anthology. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0292770881.
  8. ^ a b c d e Surrealist women : an international anthology. Rosemont, Penelope. (1st ed.). Austin: University of Texas Press. 1998. ISBN 978-0292770881. OCLC 37782914.
  9. ^ Humphreys, Karen (2003). "The Poetics of Transgression in Valentine Penrose's "La Comtesse sanglante"". The French Review. 76 (4): 740–751. ISSN 0016-111X. JSTOR 3133083.
  10. ^ Humphreys, Karen (December 2006). "Collages Communicants: Visual Representation in the Collage-Albums of Max Ernst and Valentine Penrose". Contemporary French and Francophone Studies. 10 (4): 377–387. doi:10.1080/17409290601040379. ISSN 1740-9292.
  11. ^ a b 1916-, Hubert, Renée Riese (1994). Magnifying mirrors : women, surrealism, & partnership. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 978-0803223707. OCLC 28182787.
  12. ^ Zing Tsjeng (2018). Forgotten Women: The Writers. Octopus. p. 55. ISBN 978-1-78840-115-9.
  13. ^ a b Roush, Paula; Lusitano, Maria (2013). "Les deux amies / The two girlfriends (Gifts of the Feminine)" (PDF). Fundação EDP, Lisbon. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  14. ^ Colvile, Georgiana M. M. (1996). "Through an Hour-glass lightly: Valentine Penrose and Alice Rahon Paalen" (PDF). In King, Russell; McGuirk, Bernard. Reconceptions Reading Modern French Poetry. University of Nottingham. p. 102. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 15, 2012.
  15. ^ a b c Dunwoody, Maitland (2017-05-01). "Les auteures surréalistes : French and Francophone Women Surrealist Writers -- Joyce Mansour, Valentine Penrose and Gisèle Prassinos". Masters Theses.
  16. ^ "Penrose, Valentine". Writers History Literature Portal. Archived from the original on 8 May 2014. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  17. ^ "Roland Penrose Biography". Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  18. ^ "3388: Penrose, Valentine: Dons des Feminines". Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  19. ^ "Pablo Picasso: Valentine Penrose, Dons de Féminines, Les Pas perdus". Christies. Retrieved 10 May 2014.
  20. ^ "L'Age d'Or". IMBD.
  21. ^ "La Garope". IMDB. Retrieved 8 May 2014.
  22. ^ MacCannell, Juliet (1990). The Other Perspective in Gender and Culture: Rewriting Women and the Symbolic. New York: Irvine Studies in the Humanities.
  23. ^ Valentine., Penrose, (2006). The bloody countess. Trocchi, Alexander, 1925-1984. Los Angeles, Calif.: Solar. ISBN 0971457824. OCLC 70399993.
  24. ^ Colvile, Georgiana M. M. (1996). Through An Hour-glass Lightly: Valentine Penrose and Alice Rahon Paalen. University of Nottingham.

Further readingEdit

Colvile, Georgiana M. M. (1996). "Through an Hour-glass lightly: Valentine Penrose and Alice Rahon Paalen" (PDF). In King, Russell; McGuirk, Bernard. Reconceptions Reading Modern French Poetry. University of Nottingham. pp. 81–112. Archived from the original (PDF) on September 15, 2012.